Congress in the Archives will feature a monthly staff post on our blog. November’s post comes from Center archivist Tom Eisinger.
Did you know that the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue stands on what used to be the heart of the downtown market district? In 1801 the first market was constructed on the site where the National Archives would one day stand. By the Civil War, a succession of market structures had been erected and replaced between 7th and 9th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue. During the late 1860s, a group that included some of the most prominent citizens in DC formed the Washington Market Company to replace the popular but run down market building with a more lavish, modern building. In May of 1870, Congress passed an act of incorporation, which allowed the Washington Market Company to do just that.
Not all went as planned, however. Construction proceeded at a slower rate than promised, and concerns were raised about irregularities in the plans and construction process. Consequently, in 1874, the Senate Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds was authorized to investigate the situation. Adolph Cluss, architect for the Washington Market Company, came before the committee and testified that his original construction plans, as submitted to the State Department for approval, were not being carried out. As part of this testimony, Cluss provided that above plan as proof of his assertion. Fortunately, Cluss’ copy of the architectural drawing was submitted as evidence to the Senate because the copies submitted to the State Department no longer exist!
After much controversy, the Central Market was finally completed. The market became a fixture of downtown Washington for over 50 years before the National Archives was constructed in its place.
Architectural drawing of Central Market, 1874, SEN 43A-E17, Records of the U.S. Senate